The Circle is not a dystopia, it is an example of a world just like ours.

…You know how when you put new wood floors into your house—”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, when you do, you first have to let them sit there for ten days, to get the wood acclimated. Then you do the installation.”

“So in this analogy, I’m the wood?”

“You are the wood.”

“And then I’ll be installed.”

“Yes, we will then install you. We’ll hammer you with ten thousands tiny nails. You’ll love it.”

That sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? To make things even stranger, we don’t even get a response. There are no spoken or even unspoken words to show a response to this statement. It’s like it was supposed to be completely normal, completely expected. Annie is the one saying “we will then install you” and she seems to think that there is nothing wrong with that train of thought. Perhaps it is understandable, since we see her as successful and enjoying her life that she would see nothing wrong with being “installed” into the circle in such a way.

I think that what Annie is saying here is actually very telling of the world that the story of The Circle takes place in. Such a loaded statement that certainly makes me feel uncomfortable, and yet it is a comforting way for Annie to tell Mae that everything will go smoothly. She even goes as far as to say “You’ll love it”; I think that is perhaps the most important part of this section of dialogue. In class we spoke briefly about the internet and how we as people are not forced to use the internet, but it is very appealing to do so and as such we submit and use the methods presented for us in the form of TCP/IP. It’s a subtle form of control, one that borders on not even being control, and really why is it that control is such a problem? The word, control, carries such a heavy connotation and usually it is one of negativity. When we hear the word control we tend to think of dictatorship and dystopias and so on, but I don’t think that is a fair jump from the word itself. I suggest that control is necessary, not inherently bad or evil, and that it like anything in our world requires a balance. I think that it is unfair to classify this story as dystopian or utopian. I also think that human nature is to desire the ability to have a choice – even if it is a choice that may never be exercised.

I think Eggers very intentionally throws this language out early on, because it is something that if said to someone in our society it would cause problems most likely, but since this is Mae and she has basically no negative reaction to the weirdness of the circle she of course has no reaction to this. I think the reason for this is to make sure the reader does not identify with Mae, and in fact takes the time to think about the things said to her and the decisions she makes more than she does.

The reason I don’t think this story can be classified as either dystopian or utopian is because this story simply shows a world very similar to ours, which has some qualities of dystopia and utopia but overall the people living in it are content, they are happy. They have at least enough semblance of choice in their lives to keep them happy, and they aren’t being forced to do anything they don’t want to do. It’s a lot like modern hypnosis. In Modern hypnosis, the hypnotist does not force the subjects to do anything, he simply suggests that they do it and they willingly do so because they think what reason would I have to not do this? It does not harm me in any way, and if I want to I can say no, and stop. This is the thinking about TruYou and the circle as it is presented to us.

This is a bit weird though, because you could say no, but you won’t. It’s as if knowing you have a choice is the way to control humans and that seems to be the way that the circle maintains its power and status without being written off as a dystopia, or taken down because it’s too powerful. The option to say no, and the knowledge that you don’t need to submit to them necessarily keeps resistance in check, by making it seem like something that doesn’t need to be resisted.

“…we will then install you. We’ll hammer you with ten thousands tiny nails. You’ll love it.”

You’ll love it, being installed by the circle. Not for a moment would you think about how it has power over you, and that is perhaps the meaning behind the circle. I suggest that Eggers is trying to make the statement about our culture that we are being controlled without knowing it, because we can make a choice we will not. While it may not be at the level of the Circle in our society today, it certainly is getting close to that. I am not saying that he thinks this is a bad thing, I simply think this is something that people don’t realize and perhaps he is trying to convey that through this story so that we might take a step back and realize what is really going on with big corporations like google, by using the circle as an example.

I could be wrong, and there could be much more to it, but I think that this is definitely an important point that Eggers is conveying through this story.

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2 Responses to The Circle is not a dystopia, it is an example of a world just like ours.

  1. Steph Roman says:

    Pointing to the Circle as analogous to Google and the types of control it exerts on us–especially the mind-numbingly dull control it exerts over Mae–is an important observation. The argument I’m getting from you is that the Circle is neither utopian/ dystopian because control is neither subjectively “bad” or “good,” and I’d like to see more of why that’s what your attention is drawn to.

    Alternatively, one way to draw meaning out of this passage might be to try and read it in multiple ways. I see a number of interesting ways to interpret it–the word “install” is more synonymous with installing things like Windows, Adobe, Office, and all that nowadays. How could that change your thinking? Also, I think you could read Annie’s statement ironically–if she’s not actually saying you’ll “love it,” or you’ll be “installed” successfully, what could that mean for Mae?

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  2. wuchimane says:

    One of the most frustrating things about this novel for me are the many positive aspects of The Circle that I can’t bring myself to say are inherently wrong. The system of bodily monitoring seems like a great way to keep the nation healthy, right? And wouldn’t the idea of political transparency really work to hold our nation’s politicians more accountable? The dialogue of The Circles is so enthusiastic and confident in the system that I find myself sometimes becoming intoxicated by their rhetoric when I’m not reading as attentively.

    However, I have to disagree with your ultimate conclusion. Though it doesn’t seem quite as terrifying at the beginning, the world of The Circle progresses throughout until I think it becomes very clearly dystopian. Though it does share some similarities with ours in terms of its obsession with technology and data, the level of surveillance submission to control exhibited by the inhabitants is accelerated to a much higher level than ours. Sure, our personal information might be trackable via Facebook, and smartphones do give us the option to keep constant tabs on our friends and others – but we have the right to opt out of those things if we want to, unlike the people who live in The Circle. As it nears completion, the lack of humanity in favor of increasing technological interests becomes more and more apparent. Being hammered in like nails is right.

    While I agree with your premise that Eggers wants to show us how insidiously oppressive systems of control can implement themselves, I don’t think that just because the people are happy means that it isn’t a dystopia. The happiness that the people of the world feel doesn’t come from within but is fueled by dependence on the control technology that surrounds them. Everyone is grinning and being congenial because any display of any other human emotion would go against the Circle’s goals of conformity and control. It’s a very shallow level of happiness – the kind exhibited by cashiers in a check-out line, or a spam e-mail trying to sell you Crocs. Throughout the book, there are many moments where they fight against the dark aspects of reality. Look back to the passage where Mae meets her family for dinner. When her father brings up the problems surveillance has had on her life, she stops listening and starts telling him why he really loves the cameras. Without their mechanisms of control, the people of the Circle would be totally lost and without a fallback. Even age-old ideas that used to give people comfort in difficult times like religion are laughed at by the Circlers Content or not, it’s certainly not a setting I’d like to live in.

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